40 posts categorized "author-Derrick Feldmann"

5 Mistakes You’re Making With Your Awareness Campaigns

August 29, 2017

Yell_at_earth_pc_1600_clrWith the busiest fundraising season fast approaching, nonprofit leaders everywhere should be spending much of their time thinking about their end-of-year fundraising campaigns. But when fundraising isn't top of mind, nonprofit leaders often turn their attention to another type of activity: the awareness campaign./p>

Awareness campaigns typically are defined as a sustained effort to educate individuals and boost public awareness about an organization's cause or issue. And in almost every instance they should:

  • target people who share your organization's beliefs and values;
  • educate those potential supporters about your issue or cause; and
  • generate new contacts for your donor database.

A well-executed awareness campaign will accomplish all three of those goals. But there's a caveat: awareness campaigns are easy to get wrong. And who needs that? So what should your organization be doing — and not doing — to raise awareness and acquire new donors? Read on to see whether you're making any of these common mistakes:

1. Your definition of success is too narrow; One of the most common misconceptions about awareness campaigns is that they should be mounted for the sole purpose of, well, raising awareness. But while an awareness campaign can be focused on awareness, there's actually a lot more involved: education (teaching the public about your issue or cause), explaining current events (and how they connect to your issue and efforts), and engagement (soliciting a low-level action on behalf of your organization or cause).

2. You didn't include an action in your materials. Regardless of your issue or cause, an awareness campaign should be designed to move potential supporters from interest to action — that is, from having a general interest in your issue to actually stepping up and doing something on behalf of the issue or cause. The thing to remember about actions in awareness campaigns is that they should be low level. While it's possible someone previously unfamiliar with your organization might be willing to sign up as a volunteer or donate on the spot, it's not usually the case (and shouldn't be something you count on). Instead, actions should be "stepped" like the rungs on a ladder: they should start small and increase in intensity/commitment over time, ultimately leading to concrete support (of time and/or money) for your organization or cause.

3. You're only focused on email signups. All awareness campaigns are about acquisition and building your constituency. But many nonprofit leaders make the common mistake of setting a goal of obtaining as many email addresses as possible — and nothing else. Unfortunately, acquisition isn't simply a question of getting someone to sign up for your email list. Why? Because these days everyone, nonprofit or otherwise, asks us for our email address — and we've become conditioned to comply. After all, what's the worst that could happen? It doesn’t necessarily mean we feel a deep connection to the company or organization...which is exactly what nonprofit and cause leaders hope for and need.

Instead of simply asking for an email address, you want to get potential supporters to take a low-level action on behalf of your issue or cause that reinforces their belief in your organization and its work. Consider asking them to sign a petition, share a video you've produced, or get their friends involved. Then build on that initial action with additional appeals aimed at deepening their engagement with — and support for — your issue or cause.

4. You spend too much time talking about your organization instead of your issue. Except in very special cases, people support organizations because they care about the issue the organization is working to address — not the other way around. Don't believe me? Consider the research. The top takeaway from our 2013 Millennial Impact report was that millennials, in overwhelming numbers, support organizations that are working to address an issue they are passionate about — not the other way around.

Now, consider your own behavior. Let's say you support the work of an organization like PETA. Did you become a supporter because you decided one day you liked the work they did, or did you become aware of PETA's work because you already cared deeply about the welfare of animals? Sure, PETA's work may have contributed to your awareness of and knowledge about the all-too-common mistreatment of animal species, but you wouldn't have paid attention to its messaging if you didn't already care about animals. The one preceded the other, and once you were moved to take action, you did so through PETA.

The same is true of most — if not all — donors. Your organization is the vehicle through which they're able to support an issue or cause they care about, and your role is, first, to make them aware of the issue itself and, second, to tell them how you're working to address it.

5. You forgot to measure (or you're measuring the wrong thing). When our clients complain about an awareness campaign that "failed," a lot of times it's because they didn't think they needed to track any metrics (after all, how do you measure someone's "awareness"?), or because they tracked the wrong metrics. Typically, this mistake is related to having too narrow a definition of what an awareness campaign should entail (see #1 above).

Thanks to things like social media, it's easy to turn to impression counts, engagement scores, and the like into metrics that help you track the effectiveness of your awareness campaigns. But while these kinds of metrics are a good starting place, they don't really tell you anything about whether the folks on the other end of your messaging became more knowledgeable about your issue or cause as a result of that messaging. In other words, don't confuse education with engagement.

So, what should you measure? Think of the cause engagement ladder as a sales funnel. Start with the end in mind (e.g., acquiring new donors or volunteers), then work backwards through lower-level actions and determine how many people are likely to take each step (or will be content to stay where they are). Let's say you want to obtain a hundred new supporters. For our purposes (and to keep the math simple), we'll estimate that each rung of the ladder has an attrition rate of 10 percent. In that scenario, you'd need 10,000 people to perform the lowest level action, of which 1,000 would move on to the next step, of which 100 would become move on to become a donor or volunteer. It might take a little more work on the front-end, but putting a solid measurement process in place will help you better understand what's working and what isn't — and how to move people along a continuum to become supporters of your cause.

So there you have it. Awareness campaigns might not be as simple to implement and measure as a fundraising campaign, but they can make all the difference in terms of keeping and growing your supporter base. If you haven't taken the plunge, what are you waiting for? September is the start of the sprint to the end of the year, and the more people you have rooting you on, the greater the chances you'll reach the finish line (and hit your fundraising targets). Good luck!

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve, a research and marketing agency for causes, and the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, now available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble

4 Questions to Help You Develop Your Year-End Messaging

July 31, 2017

"Movements are built by and for the people. The people generate the movement, spread the rallying cry of the message, and depend on one another to meet the collective’s goals in addressing the social issue at hand. The people, though, are bound by a common vision and a common narrative — to change the course of an issue that has affected so many people. But how is this possible? How can an individual turn his or her attention from the general issues present in so many communities to the importance of one issue affecting a group of people they may have never met before? Or take a stand for a concept that may never even affect them personally? It comes down to the message and a story. A story based on a vision for change for people or communities that need it most."

— excerpt from Social Movements for Good

Dec-31-calendarIf you're like a lot of our clients, you're starting to work on (or at least think about) your year-end fundraising appeals. Although successful year-end campaigns are driven by a strategic combination of factors, one above all others is both critical and often the most challenging to execute: messaging.

From the belief statement (also called the opening or donor statement) and opening sentence or two to pull quotes, calls to action, and the ever-important P.S. line, you have a limited amount of space (and time) in which to capture potential donors' attention, communicate your story, and, of course, persuade them to donate.

That's a lot of work!

When it comes to developing messaging for a fundraising appeal, I'm asked one question more than any other: How do I get started? Though it can be a challenge to get past writer's block and craft effective messages for a year-end campaign, I always suggest that you first ask yourself these four simple questions:

1. What makes your organization unique? Chances are yours isn't the only organization working to address or solve your particular issue. And that's okay! A fundraising appeal is your chance to call out — loudly and clearly — what’' unique or different about your organization.

Supplemental questions to consider: Why does your organization exist (i.e., why does it do the work it does)? Whom do you serve (demographically, geographically, etc.)? What's special or compelling about the population you serve? How does your organization approach its work? What's unusual or unique about that approach? How is it different from the approach employed by other organizations?

2. Why should a donor give to your organization now? Why the sense of urgency behind your organization's appeal? Sure, responses like "It's the last chance for you to claim a tax deduction" or "Matched funds are available for a limited time" are valid, but end-of-the-year appeals really are your chance to think big.

Still struggling? Think in reverse: What won't happen if you don't hit your fundraising targets? Who won't ;be helped? What might happen if they aren't served by your organization?

3. How does your organization help people? Beyond broad responses such as “We connect people to the skills they need" or "We strengthen parents' engagement in their children's education," think more specifically about the effect your programs are having on individuals. Think about that impact on both the tangible and intangible level. Then think bigger: As a result of your organization making it possible for one person to do or have x, what are they now able to do? How has their life trajectory been affected? Are they now able to contribute to the broader community in ways they weren't before? How does the community benefit from the improved prospects of the people you serve?

4. What do you want donors to do? Why do people give? Put simply, people give because it makes them feel good. One study I examined when writing my book Social Movements for Good even found that people reacted positively when paying taxes if they believed that a portion of the amount they were paying would be used to help a local charity or cause. Your year-end appeal is the perfect time to tap into that feel-good emotion and tell potential supporters that now is their chance to make a real difference in the lives of real people, maybe even people they know.

Once you've developed (short) responses to the above questions, start to think about how to bring them all together in an effective appeal. If you're still stuck, check out these additional tips:

  • When crafting your belief statement, try starting with "We believe…" and then follow with a clear articulation of what your organization stands for.
  • Include participatory, "you"-centric language (e.g., "Are you in?") in your appeal that makes potential supporters feel as if they're joining a community of like-minded people.
  • Use emotive language that shows rather than tells. (Insider’s tip: Find another word for "impact.")
  • Share the story of a specific individual and how your organization's services/actions/efforts improved his or her life.
  • Be creative! Don't feel you have to write your appeal in a certain way simply because that's what your organization has always done. For inspiration, look at what other organizations (especially national or well-known ones) are doing to capture their share of year-end giving.

Developing fundraising messaging for the most critical giving period of the year can be daunting, but, if approached strategically, that messaging can mean the difference between a successful and a not-so-successful year-end season. If you keep the above tips in mind when thinking about your year-end campaign, come December 31 you just may be pleasantly surprised.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve, a research and marketing agency for causes, and the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, now available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

3 Ways to Bring Your Work to Your Donors (Instead of Asking Them to Come to You)

May 19, 2017

Mobile_ExperiencesNearly every nonprofit organization I deal with is careful to include an "experiential" touch point somewhere along the donor journey. That is, once they've cultivated a new donor, they spend a considerable amount of time and effort attempting to persuade that donor to volunteer or participate in some kind of hands-on activity at their headquarters or at an off-site location where the donor can experience their work firsthand.

Sound familiar? If your organization does something similar, how often is it successful? (Be honest.)

As nonprofit and cause leaders, we wish every individual had the opportunity, interest, and time to meet the people we serve and see the impact of our work in real time. But let's face it, getting donors to visit your offices or to join you on a site visit usually isn't realistic. Why? Because people are busy.

After my colleagues and I figured that out (it took us a few years), we adopted a number of practices designed to bring our work online: posting photos and videos on social media, sending out a series of emails, and so on. Unfortunately, pretty much everyone else adopted the same practices at about the same time. Today, they are so commonplace — and people are so inundated with emails and status updates as a result — that it's hard, if not impossible, to get your message stand out amid all the noise.

What's an organization to do? How can organizations share with donors the important work they are doing in a way that's both meaningful and experiential?

Actually, all it takes is a shift in mindset: Instead of bringing the donor to your work, you have to bring your work to the donor.

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Millennial vs. Boomer Strategies: Time to Move On?

April 17, 2017

Millennial-v-boomerIf you've ever talked to or heard from a consultant about how your organization can and should reach younger donors, I'd almost guarantee you were told something like, "Wait till they turn seventy-five," or, "Your young donors are fifty-five."

But is that right? Should you only focus your fundraising efforts on Silents and boomers? And is a millennial-focused strategy so bad?

Let's take a closer look.

No doubt about it, a millennial-focused fundraising strategy can be a challenge. (That's not an insult; it's supported by data.)

Then why would an organization even consider such a strategy? Typically, millennial-focused strategies are driven by two factors:

Media-driven generational comparisons. The media love to compare millennials and younger cohorts to their elders, especially boomers. But guess what? That's not a new storyline. The Silent Generation was compared to their parents, the so-called Greatest Generation; boomers were compared to their parents, the Silents; and Gen X-ers were compared to boomers. How long will it be before millennials are compared to the so-called centennials? The important thing for nonprofit organizations is to figure out ways to reach the rising generation as earlier generations move through and out of their peak giving years.

Board-driven pressure. Board members — older ones, especially — are beginning to notice that many of the prospective donors they see at fundraising events, industry meetings, and organizational activities don’t necessarily look like them. It's to be expected that older donors will continue to provide a significant amount of your organization's revenue for the foreseeable future. But Silent and boomer board members know they aren't getting any younger and, combined with all the media coverage of millennials, they are becoming increasingly interested in persuading leadership to shift some of their fundraising focus to younger generations.

Now, if you are an organizational leader, there isn't much you can do to control, or even shape, the media's obsession with generational comparisons. But you certainly can do something in response to pressure from your board — and I'm not talking about issuing a statement like, "We have lots of younger donors age fifty-five and over."

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What We Learned From Our End-of-Year Fundraising Appeals

February 14, 2017

Year-end-fundraisingWe all know how important the final few months of the year are for nonprofits, many of which see up to 40 percent of their total yearly contributions come in between Thanksgiving and December 31. No surprise, then, that year after year I see nonprofits rushing to get their year-end campaigns out the door and into the hands (and in boxes) of donors. And every year, that mad, crazed rush makes me think of something Benjamin Franklin said: "You may delay, but time will not."

Most of us start each new year with the best of intentions and, if we happen to be in the fundraising game, the goal of starting our various campaigns early. But like a lot of things, especially during the busy holiday season, we often leave the necessary preparation to the last minute and, with time running out, end up falling back on what we've done in the past.

But now that the holidays are behind us and the data have been tallied, it's time to take a look at what worked, what didn't, and how we can improve. As an organization leader, you should start by asking some questions. Are our mailing lists out of date? Have we updated our messaging and graphics in the last few years? Have we tested out any new messaging? Are we getting donors to see the important role they play in the work we do? All are important questions — not just with respect to your year-end campaigns, but for your fundraising throughout the year.

Last year, my colleagues and I sent out more than 250,000 direct mail and email solicitations on behalf of clients. And even though the organizations we worked with had strong year-end results, we noticed a few trends that underscore how important year-end appeals are for nonprofits. With that in mind, here are five things, based on what we learned, that your organization can do to ensure year-end success in 2017:

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Nonprofits! You Are Not the (Only) Gatekeeper for Your Issue!

December 16, 2016

GatekeeperLast month my mother called to tell me about a neighbor who had just been diagnosed with cancer. She talked about how sad the news made her, and told me the town was really coming together to do something for one of its own. In fact, local town leaders had already decided to organize a fundraiser for our friend.

While we were talking, my mother decided to check out the online fundraising page that had been set up. It didn't take long for me to realize that something was bothering her. "Mom?" I prompted.

"I thought we were being asked to donate to the local cancer society," she replied. "I'd feel a whole lot better if I knew something about the national organization or where my money was going."

Her comment was interesting, in a number of ways. It suggested, first of all, that my mother is more motivated to give when she knows her donation will be used to support a cause close to home and/or understands how her donation will be used. But as we kept chatting, I realized that what she really wanted was to do something for our neighbor directly and in a way that helped our neighbor and her family in their hour of need.

Understanding that way of thinking and, more broadly, what motivates people to engage with a cause — your cause — is critically important if your nonprofit hopes to gain the support of donors and grow that support over time. And while, obviously, my mother is not a millennial, her comment illustrates a mindset related to cause behaviors that, in our research on millennials (see the Millennial Impact Report), we've encountered quite a bit. Indeed, as we conduct that research, we continually ask ourselves, What are the factors that influence (or discourage) millennial donors to support a cause or organization?

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How Associations Can Overcome Fundraising Barriers

October 27, 2016

Give_chalkboardOver the last three months, I've had conversations with four associations about their approach to raising money. The conversations usually touch on many of the same points:

"We're an association and are struggling to raise additional funds from our members."

 "We think it's because a lot of our members may not fully understand what we do and why we need to raise money from them."

 "We've seen a decline in our membership and have had to restate our membership levels."

"We are trying to figure out how we can offer our members giving opportunities as an alternative to membership dues."

 "We're not sure we are relevant anymore. People are spending less time with our content even though it's really good. Our members tell us that's what they want, but in the end they don't follow through."

"What should we do? Do we have a fundraising or a membership problem?"

If you work for an association, I suspect you've had similar conversations with your colleagues.

Before I share with you the advice I give to my association clients, I want to first discuss a major challenge that, in today's competitive fundraising environment, most associations face.

Content Is King — and There's a Lot of It

You have the best newsletter out there. You've established rigorous business rules to ensure you get the right professional development content to your members in the right format and at the appropriate time. But no one is consuming it. Not that your members don't find it valuable — it's more that they can't find it. Let's be honest: there's an abundance of content and information out there, good and bad. And, to make matters worse, associations today have lots of new competitors for the attention of their members — consultants and thought leaders who are creating their own content and targeting it to your members. What does it all mean? It means your members are in the driver's seat when it comes to deciding what is good and what is not, what is useful and what is not. It also means that many associations are scrambling to learn as quickly as they can how they can make their content stand out in a very crowded environment.

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Linking Challenge to Opportunity to Strategy

October 07, 2016

Link-Building-IconMost of us dread the annual strategic planning process. It's a daunting task to have to stop and think about the future when your days are already super busy with the work you do for your organization's clients and beneficiaries.

Then there's the fact that the plan itself can be a document that inspires and creates a visionary context for an organization, or, as I've seen lately, a series of work plans detailing what the organization is going to do over the next few years and how it's going to do it.

Regardless of which approach your organization takes, here are a few things to think about as you and your colleagues sit down to develop your next strategic plan:

  • Your supporters really don't care how the ship runs; they care about what your organization is doing to help people and advance its cause.
  • Your supporters don't want to know about how you're going to boost the reach and impact of your communications. From their perspective, you should be doing that anyway. They do care about what lies ahead for the organization, and what they can do to help make change happen.
  • Your supporters want to believe your plan will get more people like them to support your cause or issue. They want to be assured you have a handle on your overall strategy and the tactics needed to implement it. And they want to be reminded why they are important to your organization's success.

The points above underscore the important role individual supporters play in the change process. I hope they also convey a sense of the linkage that is often missing from strategic plans: challenge begets opportunity begets strategy.

Creating a "Challenge" Narrative for Supporters

It is crucial that supporters feel compelled to act by your challenge narrative. And the hardest part of that is making sure it conveys enough urgency to cause potential supporters to say, "Wow, I need to step up and do something." Your narrative should do two things:

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How to Get the Public Behind Your Cause

August 29, 2016

Cooptition_illustrationIf you've followed me on this blog or through my series of articles here, you're familiar with my take on the need to move potential supporters from mere interest to deep engagement with your cause over time. There are lots of people out there who want to do good, who stand up for what is right, and who even devote most of their time to organizing others, but in general nonprofits are not doing all they could to tap into that interest and energy.

If you're a nonprofit executive, what can you do to get the public involved in your issue or cause? Are you talking to the right people, the people most likely to become an advocate for your organization?

I was asked this question recently by a reporter who wanted to know why why so many legacy nonprofits (that is, those that have been around a while) struggle to stay relevant and keep the interest of their donors and supporters. Her sense was that younger people don't really connect with legacy organizations because of the way those organizations raise money or talk about what they do, and that the public in general isn't interested in the work of these nonprofits because of a perception that they long ago stopped caring about the public and instead focus most of their efforts on high-net-worth donors.

While those assumptions may have some basis in reality, my answer wasn't what the reporter was expecting.

Really great nonprofit executives today, I said, those who succeed at getting the public engaged in their cause, tend to focus their time and energy on four key stakeholder groups: people who can tell their organization's story, people who are innovating in their organization's space/issue area, people who organize and bring others to their issue, and people who challenge the way their organization approaches an issue. In many cases, nonprofits that have lost the attention of John and Jane Q. Public may have focused on these groups in the past, but somewhere along the way they fell out of  the habit or simply forgot why John and Jane are important. Does that sound like your nonprofit?

To truly get the public to move from interest to engagement to action, nonprofits need to create intentional conversations and, where possible, actual partnerships with these key stakeholder groups. Here's how:

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How to Talk to Your Donors About Funding Outreach and Awareness

July 22, 2016

Money-tree-symbol-Stock-Vector-familyWhy is it that fundraising for specific programs comes so easily to nonprofit professionals, yet asking for money to boost marketing or fundraising activities makes our palms sweat?

Professional fundraisers like Dan Pallotta have done much to call out this mindset. In no uncertain terms, Pallotta and others have argued that by not asking funders to invest in their fundraising and marketing activities, nonprofits undermine their ability to generate the kinds of dollars and awareness they need to solve our most pressing problems.

There are several reasons for this. One of the most persistent has to do with boards choosing to focus exclusively on programming and dismissing investments in marketing and fundraising capacity as unwarranted spending on "overhead." Goals involving income, whether donated or earned, are given short shrift. The general attitude is: "Let's see what we can do with our existing marketing/fundraising budget."

This is just wrong. Regardless of how well-intentioned it might be, a board simply can't insist that you generate greater awareness of your cause — not to mention impact — and then do nothing about it.

What are board members in that situation thinking? Are they afraid donors will run for the exits if they're asked to fund something other than programs? Really? Donors deserve more credit than that. They want the same thing we want: to be able to sit down with friends and family and say: "This cause and the work this organization is doing is important to me."

Like most of us, they want the issues they care about to go viral, generating as much awareness and attention as possible. That's because they know it will take more — a lot more — than their gift or donation to truly make a difference. And that's why a growing number of them are ready to put their dollars behind truly creative fundraising and marketing efforts.

We need to stop being bashful about funding the marketing and fundraising efforts needed to make the public aware of our work. We need to lean in to these conversations — and not be reticent when a donor asks about awareness, fundraising, or marketing.

What does that sound like?

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Millennials and the Presidential Election Cycle: Does Cause Engagement Change in an Election Year?

June 21, 2016

Patriotic-thumbs-up-buttonFew things in the life of our nation serve to heighten awareness of particular social issues and causes more than a presidential election cycle. And given the historic (and boisterous) nature of this particular cycle, my research team and I wanted to understand how – if at all – millennials' philanthropic interests and engagement might change in response to the campaigns mounted by various major-party candidates, and whether these changes were influenced by demographic factors such as gender, age, and political ideology.

Our research has consistently shown that millennials value cause-related work and make a point of engaging with causes that align with their interests. At the same time, the research we've conducted to date in 2016 shows that millennials are more likely to passively engage with a cause – for example, signing a petition – than actively engage through volunteering, participating in a demonstration, or making a donation.

Indeed, although three out of four (76 percent) millennial respondents in the first phase of our study believe they can help to affect change on a social issue in which they're interested, only one out of two (50 percent) had volunteered for and/or donated to a cause aligned with an issue they care about in the past month. Our research also uncovered that, to date, slightly more than half had supported a community project (defined as any kind of cause work that addresses the shared concerns of members of a defined community) aligned with a cause they're interested in, while only one in three had participated in a demonstration (i.e., a rally, protest, boycott, or march) in the past month.

In contrast, two out of three millennial respondents indicated they had signed a petition related to an issue they care about in the past month.

Cause Engagement by Gender

When looking at cause engagement by gender, the first wave of our 2016 research (March to May 2016) found that male millennial respondents are more engaged in cause participation of all types (volunteering, donating, supporting community projects, participating in demonstrations, signing petitions) during this presidential election year than are female millennial respondents.

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Time to Honor the Fearless Donor

May 27, 2016

Regular-Charity-DonorsToo often – I've been guilty of this, too – fundraisers focus excessively on the acquisition of the new donor. We spend a lot of time and resources crafting the right message, testing potential activation strategies, and building engagement programs in hopes of growing our base of supporters.

The problem is that we get so busy trying to build our supporter base with new donors that we tend to overlook the individuals who are already invested in our cause.

I recently had lunch with a friend who shared an anecdote about the time he stood up in front of a roomful of people to promote a cause in which he believed passionately. It was clear as he was telling me that it was a memory he would not soon forget. This is what he said:

"I remember the first time I shared in public that this was a cause I supported. You know, it's not easy to stand up in front of other people and tell them you believe in something. It shouldn't be a big deal, but it isn't something I do. I had to conquer my fear of telling others I care about something, knowing they might not feel the same way. I had to get over the fact that others might not care as much as I did. It's not part of my personality to wear my emotions on my sleeve, and standing up in front of that roomful of people was a pretty big deal for me...."

As nonprofit leaders and fundraisers, we tend to move on after a donor has given time, money, or skills in support of our cause. And we tend to overlook the many reasons the donor may have had not to support our cause. We similarly forget that although it may come naturally to some people to stand up and articulate their support for an issue or cause, not everyone is wired that way.

So, if you're engaged in nonprofit fundraising and marketing, here are a few things to "remember" as you go about your work:

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5 Steps to Help Turn Interest Into Action

April 29, 2016

Steps-to-successHere's a situation: A few hundred people, maybe more, start acting like they care about what you do, decide to follow you on social media, and/or sign up for your email list. But when it comes to needing them to actually take action for your cause, they pretty much disappear.

Sound familiar?

It's a scenario I hear a lot from frustrated fundraisers and nonprofit marketers who struggle to convert fans and followers of their organizations into supporters and champions. In part, that's because the idea of "doing good" has never been more popular. But actually doing something to make a difference is a different story.

What can you do you to change this dynamic?

First, let's take a step back and examine the way the average person engages with a cause he or she cares about.

Because humans are inherently empathetic, when we see suffering, injustice, or an opportunity to make a difference, our brain tells us to do something. That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that we're ready to go all in for the cause. Instead, most of us will opt for a lower-cost option like signing up for a newsletter, following an organization on social media, or signing a petition. These kinds of "actions" satisfy our impulse to do something without committing us to do more (like making a donation or volunteering our time).

When we opt for this kind of low-level, low-cost action, we are signaling to people or an organization working to address a cause that it's okay to communicate with us. As a result, the development and marketing folks at the organization will begin to send us information about the organization, fundraising solicitations, and even requests to volunteer or organize an event or activity.

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The Importance of ‘Opportunity’ When Appealing to Donors

March 24, 2016

Opportunity_nametagRecently, I received the following in a direct-mail solicitation from an organization seeking my support:

In the past year, we have paired 300 kids with the mentors they need to be successful. Now we are calling on you to help us make sure it happens again....

Almost immediately, I asked myself, Is this the best way to start a solicitation? Does it convey anything remarkable? Am I really crucial to the organization’s impact equation? And what is the real "ask" here?

Clearly, what the organization wants is my support. It says so right there in the second sentence. But is it something I'm likely to give?

Beyond the appeal to emotions, whether someone gives or not tends to be driven by the simplest of equations: Is this worth stopping what I'm doing, grabbing my credit card, filling out the pledge form, putting a stamp on the envelope, and making a trip to the mailbox?

In too many instances, the answer to that question is "no." While the typical solicitation often includes language from an organization's mission and values statements, it rarely appeals to potential supporters with a unique and compelling proposition.

The solicitation is your opportunity to motivate potential supporters to make a difference. And it's their opportunity to do something to contribute to a cause they believe in. Through a combination of the right words and a well-calibrated appeal to the emotions, it should move them from indifference to action and beyond.

Here are a few examples of the kind of language that works well when presenting your "ask":

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The Power of ‘The List’: 4 Ways to Maximize Your Contact List

February 16, 2016

Contact_multichannelAs the smoke clears from another end-of-year fundraising season, fundraisers and nonprofit leaders are starting to assess how their campaigns and strategies worked.

While there are countless assets to every fundraising campaign, today I want to discuss what in my opinion is one of the most important – "the list."

The list I’m referring to is your database of names, email addresses, mailing addresses, and phone numbers – the repository of all the contact information you have on current, lapsed, and potential donors.

At the beginning of every new year, fundraisers and development professionals have a simple goal: develop a fundraising strategy that will yield more revenue for their organizations so they can fulfill their missions and scale their efforts to do more good. So, why should they worry about a list of contacts?

Take it from me. You can have the best mission, the best creative, the best design, and the best messaging in the world, but none of it will matter if your list isn't up to the job. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the "health" of your contact list is probably the single greatest factor in the success (or failure) of your next fundraising campaign.

That's right. So, don't waste another day wondering whether you need a new direct mail strategy or your messaging is off. Until you've taken these steps to strengthen your list, everything else is putting the cart before the horse:

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